Man Arrested in Los Angeles Crash Recruits Released

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By JOHN ANTCZAK and AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Citing the need for further investigation, authorities have released a 22-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer after the pickup he was driving swerved into the wrong lane and crashed into Los Angeles. County police recruits in a training run, injuring 25 of them.

Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, of Diamond Bar, was released Thursday night. NBC4LA aired footage of him arriving home and reported that he did not answer any questions.

“Due to the extreme complexity of the investigation, which includes ongoing interviews, video surveillance review, and additional evidence needed for analysis, homicide investigators released Mr. Gutierrez from Sheriff’s Department custody at approximately 9 a.m. today. :55 p. the Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Authorities identified Gutierrez as the driver of a pickup truck that swerved onto the wrong side of the road early Wednesday in the suburban Whittier area, where the sheriff’s academy is located.

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Seventy-five recruits for the sheriff’s department and other law enforcement agencies were making a routine early-morning run in formation through the area. The group included two police vehicles and eight highway guards in reflective vests, as well as instructors who are sworn officers, authorities said.

Five of the recruits were seriously injured and two remained in critical condition Thursday afternoon, according to the department.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference a few hours after the crash that “so far, it looks like it was an accident, a horrible accident,” but Gutierrez was arrested later that afternoon.

Villanueva told NewsNation on Thursday that investigators believe the crash was a “deliberate act” and that there was probable cause for the arrest.

But he said Gutierrez was going to be “provisionally” released “until we can get the case iron-clad, iron-clad evidence, and presented to the district attorney for filing consideration. At this point, we want to tie up all the loose ends of the case.” and then present it to the prosecutor.”

“I have no doubt that a thorough investigation will confirm that Nicholas is a hard-working young man who has no animosity towards law enforcement, and this was an absolutely tragic accident,” Alexandra Kazarian, Gutierrez’s attorney, said in a statement to KABC. -TV.

Christine Periman, who lives near the crash site, said she woke up to a devastating scene outside her home early Wednesday with recruits strewn across the street and a victim whose leg was turning blue.

“It seemed like the sirens kept going for about two hours,” he said. “It was just horrible.”

She said recruits regularly ran through her house and cried thinking they wouldn’t do it anymore.

It will be up to the county district attorney to decide if Gutierrez will be charged and for what crime. Gutierrez could not be reached for comment and it was not clear if he has an attorney.

The case has not been formally referred to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said in an email that sheriff and highway patrol authorities said Thursday night that they would not file a case at this time and that the suspect would be released.

Some had questioned whether sheriff’s authorities were being overzealous in moving so quickly to arrest Gutierrez in an investigation into the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

In Los Angeles County, the sheriff has had a long-standing dispute with the district attorney, George Gascón. Gascón was elected to his post as a progressive reformer and critics of his have criticized him for being soft on crime.

In the NewsNation interview, Villanueva, who conceded defeat earlier this week in his own re-election bid, referenced tensions with Gascón, saying “we definitely have serious concerns about his ability to prosecute.”

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School who is not affiliated with the case, said attempted murder usually means there was intent to kill and that the driver was not simply distracted or lost control. vehicle. vehicle.

In an interview before the driver’s release, Levenson also said a key question is whether the sheriff’s department can make an objective assessment given that the agency’s recruits were victims of the crash. That is why it is also important that prosecutors review the evidence and ultimately be the ones to decide, he added.

“They have sought the highest possible position, there is no question about that,” Levenson said of the investigators. “The question is whether they are objective enough in assessing this given that the crime was committed against them. We have to see what the evidence shows.”

Authorities said a field sobriety test performed on the driver was negative.

Rory Little, a professor at UC Hastings School of Law, said having sheriff’s authorities take a closer look at the evidence could indicate an agency is being appropriately cautious, not a need to be suspicious. Larger law enforcement agencies generally have no problem finding investigators not associated with a case to work on, he said.

“If the sheriff’s department actually said ‘wait a minute, slow down here,’ that’s probably a good reflection of the department,” Little said. “It’s too early to judge anything.”

Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associated Press writer Amancai Biraben in Whittier, California contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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